tv [untitled] February 7, 2014 7:30pm-8:01pm EST
for many americans success. means money and money means success and that seems to be. super the case on wall street that's why even after the biggest financial crisis since the great depression a job at a top notch investment bank still holds a lure for many of young americans many young americans starting a professional life that is working on wall street really worth it for tonight's conversations of great minds i'm joined by someone who's lived the life of wall street millionaire and left it all behind sam polk spent most of his twenty's living and working as a trader for a high power wall street investment from actually a series of them but at thirty he decided to leave the world of finance for good since then he's become a successful nonprofit entrepreneur has written about his time on wall street for the new york times magazine and joins us now from our los angeles studio sample welcome to the show. thank you so much i'm so excited to be here thanks for joining
us you talk in your in your piece about you know working on wall street and actually your dad's influence getting into finance what what got you into wall street how did that happen. well i think it started really early i came from this house that was sort of lower middle class and my dad sort of was a salesman that kind of live paycheck to paycheck my mom was a nurse but my dad was always talking about this future when he would hit it big and he would make a million dollars and so from a very young age i sort of you know grew up in this environment where there wasn't enough money and sort of had this belief that money would fix everything i also think that there's something about my family in particular that's important which was you know my parents were good in a lot of ways but one of the ways they weren't was that they both had pretty crazy tempers and so i grew up sort of afraid nervous and really insecure. for and so
that fantasy life that wall street represented was sort of in me from an early age so. your your as a consequence of that do you think that your driving for more and more money on wall street was a way to compensate for that fear that insecurity that well. absolutely i mean i was you know i was always from a very young age i was trying to compensate and first it was with the drugs and alcohol and sort of being a tough guy i became a wrestler but then i got on to wall street and you know by the time i got on to wall street i was actually sober from drugs and alcohol and i started to really realize that you know i'm not an expert but the the way that i was using money and power and success had a lot of similarities to the way that i use drugs and alcohol for example. how so.
sam can you hear me. now i can hear great how what were those similarities how did that work. ok so the thing about being an addict right is like you have all these great stories about why drugs are great but in the end after a while it's sort of a miserable experience and on wall street it sort of quickly became the same thing so i'd be on wall street and i'd be making more money than i ever had thought was possible and you know there's all these sort of accoutrements of being a successful wall street trader which is like you know i'm twenty five and i can go to any restaurant in manhattan and i can go to any ballgame that i want to go to and whenever i fly in from the airport there's a black car waiting for me with my name on it and it was this sort of tremendous feeling of power but at the same time there was another side to that and that was that no matter how much sort of money i made i was always sort of consumed by jealousy. look at the guys next to me that were making you know i'd be making one
million and they'd be making ten million and i would just be eaten up inside with and and after a while you know after a couple years of bonuses where you know the bonuses would shoot up inside but the feeling would stay the same and i started to realize like just like how there's never enough cocaine there was just never enough money that cocaine never fixed what it was that i was trying to use it to fix when we when we look at these huge disparities in wealth in the united states and around the world. do you do you think it's possible that the billionaires multimillionaires who are. who will even corrupt political systems in order to make more money who will poison communities to make more money who will endanger the future of planet earth to make more money that it's not just like good old fashioned sociopathy or it's not you
know we used to think you know good business sense or something that it's really an addiction or maybe even a form of obsessive compulsive disorder where the object of their obsession is money and the compulsion is to get the money no matter what the cost is. yeah i mean for me i have come to believe that x. addiction is a symptom of a spiritual malady for me that sort of meant like this sort of broken this inside me and that broken this sort of led me to that sort of addictive personality where i couldn't get enough and i think to your point that one of the reasons that my story i think went so viral is that i sort of was sort of floating this idea that at least for me my sort of greed and ambition was really a reflection of sort of a spiritual sickness and it's possible that you know the billion. there is who are
kind of ruling the world maybe not as sort of wonderful and powerful as we think but maybe they're potentially spiritually sick and i've known a few and. at least one is a very very miserable person and just you would not want to be inside this guy's. and even though he's got over a billion dollars society is this is it is it possible that. that what you were experiencing was not. uniquely sam paul can uniquely a particular addiction but really rather flexion of a societal. corruption a sickness within our culture. i mean i completely believe that and i'll tell you why i mean you know one of the reactions from my story has been you know wall street a lot of my sort of friends on wall street got really upset and they said you know you're really like attacking wall street and i wasn't i was talking about my
personal experience but i also know that you know what i was speaking about had to do with red carpets and it had to do with silicon valley and it had to do with the mega millions lottery and i also know that you know i got e-mails from my story that came from all across the economic spectrum and really people were saying like more than anything it was like i really identify with the feeling that there is never enough and this feeling of jealousy of other people and so to your point like i do believe that you know you know my story is just one man's experience but it is a story of sort of spiritual sickness and redemption and i do believe that was really attractive to the world who i sort of my layman's opinion is that there is a lot of spiritual sickness in our society if that's the disease or a symptom of the larger disease what's the cure. you know it's. it's like when i
was twenty two well let me put it this way alice miller talks about these things called in light and witnesses and she says really the main difference between a kid who is abused who sort of turns out ok or one who turns into just another abuser that's going to repeat the pattern the one difference is something that alice miller calls an enlightened witness and it's just a person that happens to be around that shows shows caring and shows you just by their attention that you're valuable and so that was what i was lucky enough to get i was twenty two and i was dumped by this girl and i had been using drugs and alcohol for years and years and years and i was finally sort of broken enough to ask for help and i met this woman who is a spiritual counselor and she started teaching me. lessons but really she was teaching me over time that i was valuable and so you ask like what is the solution and a lot of people have been asking me that they're like sam you know why don't you kind
of come up with a big policy solution or why aren't you in congress and the answer is that like there's a lot of smart people saying really smart things and i don't think that i'm particularly smarter than them what i do have inside me is like a different consciousness that i've been given i believe from sort of my interactions with this teacher and so to your answer like somehow consciousness has to change whether that's an awareness whether that sort of all facing our historical past or us all kind of coming to get a sense of rediscovering our value and our connection and our responsibility to other people but how that happens i don't know well from prior to the one nine hundred eighty s. the average c.e.o. in america made thirty times what is the average worker made and it was typically his and. then drop the top tax rate from seventy four percent down to twenty eight percent and dropped capital gains substantially. and now we
have c.e.o.'s you know. stephen hemsley the c.e.o. of united health care to as taken over a billion dollars from a company that's supposed to be providing health insurance to people the guy before him the dollar bill is wired to one point six billion as i recall and these guys aren't unique i mean there's ten people on wall street who took more than two billion dollars each last year. at some point don't we have to ask the question what is what could any person possibly do that is worth compensation of a billion dollars number one and number two if we're going to if we think that that might be fueling an addiction that's damaging to the individuals and to our society might we not want to look at that fifty year period that we had before reagan when billionaires were not erupt again when society was relatively stable when c.e.o.'s were running businesses in the interests of their employees rather than the interests of their of their swiss bank accounts and look at policies. look i completely agree with everything you said and raising
a capital gains rate and not having it carried interest and all these you know raising the higher the marginal tax rate on the top earners i completely agree with all of that the only thing that i'm saying is that policy answers are not necessarily a cure for a spiritual problem and so if you believe that this is sort of a spiritual sickness then there might be some sort of spiritual solution and i'm not the smartest guy in the world i don't know exactly what that is but i do know that einstein said that you have to do that you can't solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it and i believe that we are sort of being led by this sort of intellectual ism and this belief that reason and rationality will fix things and from my personal experience i've just learned that what for me what i needed was i needed to come back to my heart and rediscover sort of my humanity and rediscover my responsibility to everybody else and i don't say this as some sort of like moral hero. i just mean that you know the key thing about
addiction right is you only see the world through these lenses right and you're only looking for what's good for you and to get more and to get more and in order to sort of deal with that addiction something has to change inside you so that you can open up that perspective and somewhere that's missing in our world and you know if you think that a higher living wage which i am for will fix that you know i'm all for that i just don't know that i think i guess my opinion is that it's deep or yeah it's that's brilliant and it's and insightful it's you know i want to get into how our you have have reinvented your life in this this extraordinary charity that you've put together and how you're addressing that spiritual sickness in the way that you're living in conducting yourself as well as as what you're doing in just a minute more of that conversation the great minds the sample at work.
and welcome back to conversations of the great minds and speaking sample on the wall street trader and founder of grocery ships' a nonprofit devoted to helping underprivileged americans get access to healthy food sam welcome back to. you thank you thank you you left wall street you left the million plus a year gig and did what. we really i just went through withdrawal for a while i mean i had no idea what i was going to do and that was sort of the most terrifying thing of it all i mean now in retrospect it sort of looks like this narrative of the guy that leaves wall street to start a nonprofit but really when i left i had no idea and so i was sort of like you know i had i'd come from this sort of world where i had for so long to find myself by
the institutions that i was associated with so columbia university and bank of america you know all these things and i really left and had nothing to associate myself with and people would ask me at dinner parties you know what do you do and i'd say oh you know i don't know and it would be uncomfortable for both of us you know and so i spent like a couple years sort of just figuring it out and sort of dealing with that like frankly all those like issues that came up from like leaving that job and sort of having to be alone in the world and just on my own but here's what sam zell had to say about you know being among the rich and powerful being in the one the top one percent. is that the world in this country should not talk about envy of the one percent it should talk about any lady the one percent the one percent work harder the work one percent are much bigger factors and all
forms of i think how. is that a rationalization or promotion of an addiction. is that a world view is it is. it is it a sentiment that is common on wall street hey you know we're almost person you're just you're not like me because you just don't work ten thousand times as hard. first of all to me that is like utterly infuriating i you know i just told you that i grew up with this tough childhood but i also grew up with a lot of benefits right i was white i was male i grew up in the suburbs both my parents went to college they read a lot and even sort of things like my intelligence was not something that i earned it was sort of something that was just given to me and you know i see people every day through my work with grocery ships that work so much harder than we ever did on wall street i mean you know line cooks who work eight hours at one job on their feet and then go to their next job to work eight hours on their feet again and then
come home to sleep for six hours so they can do it again and i do believe that what sam zell is talking about is a distortion i believe it is like a rationalization of people saying you know some some reason to sort of explain why it is that we had so much money and by the way i say that without my finger pointing like that but like that because that's what i did for so long but the other thing i want to say is like this is what i'm talking about this sort of cultural sickness which says you know we come we live in this world this is jamie diamond is more valuable than the guy on the street and i have come to believe that that is not true and so that's what i do with grocery ships which is not you know i'm going to save these people or i'm going to teach them how to eat vegetables or anything like that but instead is saying like health is important and there are people like me who had a tremendous amount of advantages in our lives and i believe that those advantages come with a certain responsibility and that responsibility simply means treating people who
didn't have the same advantages with the same. care and consideration that we would treat our own children and somewhere along the way you know wall street traders are always saying i'm doing this for my kids or i'm doing this to give my kids a better life and somewhere along the way we came to believe that our kids were more important than somebody else's kids and so i've just come to believe that that's not true groceries ships you mention this this nonprofit organization that you're involved with. did. i read that you started this as a consequence of you and your wife watching knives over four x. four x. overnight as or whatever the day that that will be about basically you know changing your diet radically changing your diet and starting to eat healthy in order to change your life. yeah we were watching the movie and my wife burst into tears and it was a documentary about you know plant based eating so it wasn't usually something that
you would cry over but she did because she has had high cholesterol her life she's been on lipitor all her life and we were about to try to start getting pregnant and so she knew that she had to go off lippa torah but she was afraid that her cholesterol would spike and we watched this movie that was about plant based eating and how you could sort of arrest all these sort of western problems by simply eating a lot of plants and no meat and dairy and so we did that and all of a sudden like things changed for us i lost a lot of weight she her cholesterol numbers plummeted and that was sort of the beginning of sort of like coming understand the power of that type of eating but it wasn't really actually until we saw another documentary which was about hunger in america that we really started to say oh you know we've both struggled with eating our whole lives and you know and it's been hard even in westwood where we have all these organic grocery stores and we can get big green juices and we saw this movie
about hunger in america and hunger as you know in america often. looks like obesity because people skip one meal and then they have k.f.c. the next and so when we saw that there were sort of like people that were no doubt struggling with food in the same way that we were except a million times worse we said ok we want to do something about that and what did you do. we started this program that the genesis of the idea was to say ok well if a family is struggling with food and with hunger and obesity let's put healthy groceries on their table right but that actually comes with a huge can of worms because you know you put fruit and vegetables on somebodies table and they're just like all of us which we know that we're supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables but we don't and there is you know i believe in all this infinite number of reasons that people don't write some of it is like sort of simple skills like nutrition education and the fact that we live in a world where people don't have enough time and they don't spend time in the
kitchen and they didn't grow up in a family where their moms were cooking so they didn't learn how to cook and prepare food and all those sort of like practical skills and so we teach that as part of grocery ships but there's a whole nother pandora's box that has to do with obesity and that's sort of like the spiritual emotional side which says and by the way i speak of this myself because i know it like i grew up a heavy kid in an obese family and i definitely over eat to stuff down emotions and i definitely over eat and became fat because you know i had low self-worth and all these things these sort of like and i eat when i'm stressed and if you think about the lives of people generally in poverty like their stress levels are so high in the depression rates are so high that the idea of saying ok here's fruits and vegetables problem solved is sort of like laughable and i'm not saying people are doing that but we create this sort of comprehensive program so that families go through a six month program that teaches them all these things but also gives them an
incredible amount of emotional support for what is a. really really scary change in a way it sounds like what you're doing is you're walking people through a detox and the breaking of an addiction to sugar fat and salt basically you know the junk food. chemicals the people actually do get addicted to and and walking them into into a different life much like you did with money. i couldn't agree more and you know i often think about it is like outpatient rehab for food and also your you know insightful comment really brings up another thing that i've learned which is that you know the whole world is sort of excited because i've said oh wealth can be an addiction but really there's thirty five different you know twelve step groups for different kinds of addictions but my belief is that those things are all the same thing you know it's just addictions are fungible they're just different forms of
the same underlying spiritual problem and so it with with grocery ships are you addressing head on that spiritual problem. yeah i mean it's you know it's sort of interesting because you know addressing the spiritual problem is first of all it's not something that i'm a minister or can sort of you know educate people but there is this tremendous power of groups of people sort of addressing collective problems together and so in grocery ships you know the first hour of every weekly meeting is focused on practical skills but the second hour is really focused on like emotional and spiritual support so we'll introduce a topic whether it's like your family's food history or belief systems about food or whether you're honoring yourself with the way that you eat and sort of put that out to the group and so it becomes educational because each person shares about their own experience with the topic and through that process you know it kind of
provides this sort of like education and almost. space for people to really get honest and open about what's really going on it's extraordinary it's extraordinary . if people wanted to do something like this in their own community or neighborhood do you have affiliates or do you just say hey look at what we're doing on our i mean how do we how do we expand this we will. first of all we're just young right now and so we only have three pilot programs in los angeles and so we're waiting to see whether it works at the same time we are designing the program to be scalable so hopefully some day in the future we can send you know we've gotten requests from all over america in even all over europe and asia and you know people saying hey can we have this program and we'll hopefully have something that we can send out. but it's not ready yet it's a great start in the in the a little more than
a minute we have left how do you fund something like this. you know you fund something by like what we're trying to do is a model like charity water where we have you know some big sort of institutions that fund the administrative costs with it but we really want to do is connect to as many people as possible and say look you know you may have just twenty five dollars that you can give go to grocery ships' dot com and give give that money to us and that will go in the form of fruits and vegetables onto a family's table and we really want to just show this like you know people supporting other people through food so in addition to donations we are planning to have like a corporate wellness arm and take the money that we earn using the similar grocery shops program because as by now you can probably tell i believe that like spiritual and emotional issues with food don't just exist in compton they also exist in brentwood and beverly hills and so will want to have money flowing in from those
corporate wellness programs that then gets funneled to the areas in south los angeles or the. bronx or the areas where there is low income and those families can then receive the food that other people have given as their extras effectively that's extraordinary and people can learn all about it read all about it over grocery ships grocery ships like ships and see dot com right. now it's more like scholarships for groceries ox scholarship so that's perfect i know i get it i miss that sam thanks so much for being with us it's brilliant work you're doing thank you thank you for having me it's been an honor. sample to see there's another conversation some great minds go to our website at conversations with great minds. and that's the way it is tonight pride february twenty fourth and don't forget democracy begins when you get out there get active tag your seats with.
coming up on r t the sochi winter olympics finally takes front and center the olympics have brought a record eighty eight different countries to sochi with athletes representing their home nations while kicking off the twenty fourteen global competition a look at the first day of the olympics ahead and you may remember him from his action packed films now steven seagal is focused on topics like u.s. immigration and international relations we'll get his take on those matters and much more in this r.t. exclusive. and our lawmakers are overstaying their welcome in congress one politician says they are and he's pushing for a bill that would limit how long congressman can stay in the game we'll take a look at that and more later in the show.